2015-06-10 / Star Journal

Queens Offered Cure For Summertime Blues In 1896

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal.

Welcome to June 1896!

In far-off Japan, a devastating 8.5 magnitude earthquake and 125-foot tall tsunami devastated the coast of Northeastern Honshu Island and claimed some 22,000 lives. Back on solid ground in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4 Henry Ford test-drove his first vehicle, the ethanol-powered Quadricycle. Four days after the momentous occasion, the world witnessed its first car theft as enterprising French bandits made off with a Peugeot. Back home in New York City, intrepid Norwegian immigrants Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo set sail for England that month – in an 18-foot rowboat named Fox. They arrived 55 days later, setting a rowing speed record that stood for 114 years.

In June 1896, Long Island bid farewell to famed railroad magnate and robber baron


North Beach, the present-day site of LaGuardia Airport, was a major destination for Queens residents in the summer. Visitors here would swim in the clean Bowery and Flushing Bays, enjoy cookouts on the pristine sandy beach, partake of refreshing beer and delicious food, and take rides on the Ferris Wheel. 
Courtesy Jason D. Antos Collection North Beach, the present-day site of LaGuardia Airport, was a major destination for Queens residents in the summer. Visitors here would swim in the clean Bowery and Flushing Bays, enjoy cookouts on the pristine sandy beach, partake of refreshing beer and delicious food, and take rides on the Ferris Wheel. Courtesy Jason D. Antos Collection Austin Corbin. No stranger to Queens, the Long Island Rail Road President was thrown from his carriage while vacationing on his estate in New Hampshire. Corbin aggressively expanded the LIRR in his 15-year tenure as president, including acquiring the New York and Rockaway Beach Railway, which brought generations of locals to summer getaways on the Queens seashore. Austin Street in Forest Hills is named for the railway mogul, as is the Romanesque Revival style Corbin Building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

For some, summer in Queens meant a trip to The Rockaways or North Beach. With so many working six-day weeks, others spent their precious summer Sundays with church groups on excursion steam boats bound for points further east on Long Island. For others not desiring to venture so far, the parks and hotels of Queens offered diversions for all walks of life. The Olympic Park Hotel on Debevoise Avenue in Astoria offered patrons bowling, shooting galleries and pool tables to pass the time on a sultry summer evening, and accepted reservations for picnics and other social gatherings. William Schwalenberg’s Jackson Avenue Park, billed as “The Pleasantest and Most Orderly Resort in Queens County,” drew crowds with an “unexcelled grove” and easy access from all local street cars and the 34th Street Ferry. Today, the elevated trains and clamorous street traffic of Queens Plaza rumble and jostle their way past the site of many a joyous, memorable summer’s evening.

When Reverend George Sayers of Jamaica passed away in March of the previous year, he left behind a personal library of some 8,000 books which were hastily stored away near his home following his death. When the collection went to auction, discovered among the musty, neglected volumes were a book printed in Venice in 1471, a first edition copy of the King James’ Bible from 1611 and an even older Latin Vulgate Bible from 1551. It was an item titled, Constitution and By-Laws of the Washington Benevolent Society of New York, however, that attracted the most attention from bidders. Nearly discarded as not worthy of sale, it was found that the register contained the names of many notable New Yorkers. Attorney William F. Wyckoff purchased the vellum-bound volume for $10.50, and carefully perusing its time-worn pages discovered the signatures of such greats as author Washington Irving, President Martin Van Buren and industrial tycoon Peter Lorillard. Washington Benevolent Societies were early 19th century grassroots political organizations established by the Federalist Party to turn out the vote.

That month, history came knocking for William D. Dickey, New York State Supreme Court Justice and Civil War veteran who was hearing cases in Long Island City. Justice Dickey received a message from the War Department that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in leading his men in the Second Battle of Petersburg as a 19-year-old Captain in 1864. Wounded by enemy artillery fire, the Long Island Weekly Star recalled the intrepid officer’s stirring act of heroism in turning back the Rebels that fateful summer’s day 32 years before. “Seizing the standard, Judge Dickey called on his men to follow, hurried them into the thickest of the fight, beat back the enemy and turned what looked like defeat into victory.”

That’s the way it was in June 1896!

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718- 278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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